Pearl and Wagner: Five Days Till Summer is a Level 3 Transitional Reader from the Penguin Young Readers series which has a Guided Reading level of K, and is formatted just like a chapter book. This format is perfect for readers who aren’t quite ready for chapter books, but don’t want their books to look babyish. The story itself is also more involved than some of the easy reader stories at levels one and two.
As summer vacation approaches, Pearl and Wagner’s teacher, Ms. Star, takes her class to visit Mr. Hat’s students. These are the kids who will be in Ms. Star’s class next year. This visit prompts Pearl to ask who her teacher will be next year. When she learns that it will be Ms. Bean, she peeks in her classroom and immediately decides, based on the quiet class and Ms. Bean’s clothes, that she is mean. This rumor spreads through Ms. Star’s class right up until the day Ms. Bean and her class come to visit. Then Pearl has to decide once and for all whether she will brave class with Ms. Bean or stay behind in Ms. Star’s class.
There are a lot of books about the first day of school, but not nearly as many about the last, and very few at all about the question of being assigned a new teacher. This story is as appropriate for this time of year, when kids are gearing up to go back to school, as it is for the start of summer, as it deals with all the anxiety surrounding changing classrooms and getting to know a new teacher. Kate McMullan really captures the way kids see adults, and also the way kids communicate with each other about their fears and concerns. I would have liked to see some more obvious differences between the three teachers, because I think it would have been a nice way to emphasize the point that Pearl - and therefore the child reader - could do well no matter what sort of personality the teacher has, but I understand that might have been more character development than a book of this type really allows.
The publisher’s description of Level 3 readers advertises “multisyllable and compound words”, “more dialogue”, “different points of view”, and “more complex storylines and characters,” and this book includes most of those things. The story involves lots of dialogue from lots of different speakers and words like “cafeteria,” “stupendous,” and “astonishing” provide some challenges for more fluent readers who are ready to take on longer words. I don’t think we deviate very much from Pearl’s point of view, but the story has a definite point of view, which is a marked difference from some of the lower-level readers where the narrators are all third-person omniscient.
I’m a fan of R.W. Alley, and his illustrations for this book are especially charming. Pearl’s expressive face helps the reader understand her growing worries about Ms. Bean, and the other students’ faces change subtly to show how they do and do not share her concerns at different points in the story. My favorite of all the figures is probably Mr. Hat; something about a big-headed zebra in a bow tie just makes me happy. The image of all the characters pointing to Pearl as the source of the rumors about Ms. Bean is also very well done and speaks volumes on its own, even without reference to the text.
There are some cliches I could have done without - the pig whose chief concern is lunch, and the rhyming of bean with mean - but overall, Pearl and Wagner: Five Days Till Summer is a winner. Recommend it to kids who have enjoyed the Iris and Walter, Katie Woo, Zelda and Ivy, and Andy Shane series.
I borrowed Pearl and Wagner: Five Days Till Summer from my local public library.